Mute War Cry

In a scene from the documentary Goonga Pehelwan, based on the speech and hearing impaired wrestler Virendra Singh, the directors ask Singh what it's like to be deaf. He flashes a wide smile, and in almost cinematic sign language tells us how women like him better because he is quiet and they empathise with him. He beams at his witty response, and then signals, "God has made me like this, I'm very content with who I am". Singh holds India's first Gold medal for wrestling in the Deaflympics, held in 2005 in Melbourne and he is popularly known in wrestling circles as Goonga Pehelwan. The film, which was screened in Delhi last week, at the India Habitat Centre, is made by Ahmedabad-based students Prateek Gupta, Mit Jani and Vivek Chaudhry. It follows Singh as he prepares for his third Deaflympics.

A collage of celebrated sportspeople and athletes, such as Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and Leander Peas, greet us at the beginning of the film. There's silence as we're shown Virendra Singh's winning point at Melbourne, but the film is quick to set a jovial tone with colourful opening credits. Goonga Pehelwan was never going to be a film about sympathy. We are given a proper introduction to Singh through his life before the training and interviews with his uncle and father (where we learn he wasn't born deaf and he kept running back to his village in Haryana as a child). "I barely go out anywhere. While my roommates talk, crack jokes and play cards I sit and watch them grudgingly. But when the wrestling begins, I put all this behind me," Singh says to the camera in sign language. He then flashes a smile and narrates several humorous anecdotes about his training in Chhatrasal Stadium in Model Town.

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